PR Bankruptcy

TITLE VI OF PROMESA: CREDITOR COLLECTIVE ACTION

 

 

PROMESA provides two mechanisms to restructure PR’s debt, Title III, a bankruptcy like procedure and Title VI, a mechanism to formalize agreements negotiated between PR and its creditors. Moreover, the way PROMESA is written, Title VI negotiations are indispensable for eligibility to Title III.

 

Section 206(a)(1) of PROMESA requires that before the Board issues a restructuring certification (permission for Title III) it determine that “the entity has made good-faith efforts to reach a consensual restructuring with creditors” Hence, Title VI negotiations are imperative. What is the procedure for these negotiations? Who negotiates, the Board or the Government of PR? What happens if the parties reach an agreement? What happens if they don’t reach an agreement?

 

Title VI of PROMESA provides some of the framework for said negotiations. Sections 206(a) and 405(n) of PROMESA establish that the Puerto Rico Government, not the Board, will conduct these negotiations. That does not mean that the PR Government and the Board cannot coordinate negotiations efforts but the former, not the latter, conducts them. The Board, however, has made it clear to PR that only it can approve the agreements, as I will discuss shortly.

 

Title VI consists of two sections, to wit, 601 and 602. Section 602 simply excludes foreign and international law from Title VI, therefore, section 601 covers the negotiations process. Strangely enough, section 601 does not establish the manner or form of the negotiations but rather structures how bondholders are to vote for the proposed modifying qualifications (modifications of the bond debt).

 

Once PR and bondholders come to an agreement to modify the bond debt, the Board, PR or the bondholders may propose a Qualifying Modification to such debt. If the Board likes it, it will order voting on that Qualifying Modification and if it does not like it, there will be no chance to have it approved. Once approved by the Board, officials designated by the Governor will establish pools for the different issuers of bonds. For example, if the bonds issued by the Retirement Fund have differences in preferences, or a lien (as the First Circuit recognized to Altair on those bonds), these bonds have to be put in different pools. Once all outstanding bonds, meaning valid bonds that have not been paid (another reason why the Board will conduct its own audit of PR’s debt), have been accounted for and its owners identified, certain information has to be delivered to them. Section 601(f) establishes the following:

 

Before solicitation of acceptance or rejection of a Modification under subsection (h), the Issuer shall provide to the Calculation Agent, the Information Agent, and the Administrative Supervisor, the following information—

 

(1) a description of the Issuer’s economic and financial circumstances which are, in the Issuer’s opinion, relevant to the request for the proposed Qualifying Modification, a description of the Issuer’s existing debts, a description of the impact of the proposed Qualifying Modification on the territory’s or its territorial instrumentalities’ public debt;

(2) if the Issuer is seeking Modifications affecting any other Pools of Bonds of the Territory Government Issuer or its Authorized Territorial Instrumentalities, a description of such other Modifications;

(3) if a Fiscal Plan with respect to such Issuer has been certified, the applicable Fiscal Plan certified in accordance with section 201; and

(4) such other information as may be required under applicable securities laws.

 

As stated above, once this information is delivered to the bondholders, they will vote and if “the affirmative vote of the holders of the right to vote at least two-thirds of the Outstanding Principal amount of the Outstanding Bonds in each Pool that have voted to approve or reject the Qualifying Modification, provided that holders of the right to vote not less than a majority of the aggregate Outstanding Principal amount of all the Outstanding Bonds in each Pool have voted to approve the Qualifying Modification” the modification will be approved. Section 601(j) of PROMESA.

 

If the Qualifying Modification is approved by the vote of the bondholders, then the agreement is taken to the US Federal District Court for the District of Puerto Rico for the entry of an order that the requirements of Section 601 have been satisfied. Once this order is entered, the Modifying Qualification is binding on all bondholders but this may be questioned in the US Federal District Court for the District of Puerto Rico due to the unlawful application of Section 601 or that in the judgment of the Court it is “manifestly inconsistent” with Section 601.

 

Undoubtedly agreements will be reached between some issuers and some bondholders, especially with those with weaker claims, to wit, PFC and GDB, the latter which its bondholders had already accepted 53% haircut. In others, such as GO’s and COFINA, it is likely that a Title III filing will ensue, especially if a quick resolution of that controversy is not made by Court resolution. And those filings will make Detroit seem a walk in the park.

 

 

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UN CONEJILLO DE INDIAS LLAMADO PUERTO RICO

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El día 28 de enero de 2017 se celebró la cuarta reunión de la Junta de Supervisión Fiscal, quería incluir el enlace a esta reunión pero por alguna razón, no está. Interesting. Durante la misma se concedió al Gobierno de PR la extensión al “stay” de PROMESA hasta el 1ro de mayo de 2017. Durante la reunión, los miembros de la Junta dijeron que el “stay” no se podía extender más allá del 1ro de mayo excepto por el “automatic stay” del Título III de PROMESA, el procedimiento de quiebra. En la parte de comentarios, mencioné que además del “automatic stay” del Título III de PROMESA, los bonistas y PR pueden llegar a un “Forbearance Agreement” (Acuerdo de Indulgencia) donde se puede acordar no demandar durante un periodo específico mientras se continúan negociaciones consensuales. Por las caras de los miembros de la Junta era obvio que no les gustó la sugerencia.

 

Desde que la Junta entró en funciones, ha puesto en “fast track” la aprobación del Plan Fiscal. ¿Por qué la prisa de aprobar el plan fiscal? Como ya vimos, no hay que tener el plan fiscal aprobado para que extendieran el “stay” de PROMESA. Pero si es indispensable para dar una certificación para que el Gobierno de PR o sus instrumentalidades puedan ser autorizados a radicar un Título III, ver, sec. 206(a)(3). Otro requisito es que se lleven a cabo negociaciones de buena fe con los bonistas, sec. 206(a)(1) y sabemos la insistencia de la Junta de que se lleven a cabo estas negociaciones. No me cabe duda de que luego de la expiración del stay de PROMESA la Junta llevará al gobierno de PR al Título III.

 

Si los bonistas y el Gobierno están dispuestos a negociar, ¿por qué la prisa por un Título III? Como he dicho anteriormente, PROMESA no se aprobó para ayudar a PR si no más bien como un experimento de tener una Ley de Quiebras para los Estados de la Unión. Me explico.

 

David Skeel, miembro de la Junta y experto en quiebras de la Universidad de Pennsylvania, entiende que el Cap. 9 se puede utilizar para entre otras cosas vender haberes municipales o disolver el municipio. Además, en un artículo en el Wall Street Journal para el 2011 dijo lo siguiente sobre una ley de quiebras para los estados- “First, the governor and his state could immediately chop the fat out of its contracts with unionized public employees, as can be done in the case of municipal bankruptcies.”

 

El Sr. Skeel es un coautor de un artículo en 2016 Titulado “Governance Reform and the Judicial Role in Municipal Bankruptcy”. En el artículo, Skeel dice

 

Failed budget policies do not arise autonomously, disaggregated from the political environment in which they are devised. Rather, with the exception of cases in which municipalities face some exogenous shock, such as a crippling tort suit or natural disaster, or in which local governments suffer from broad economic disruptions beyond their control, local fiscal crises usually are caused by a governance structure that tolerates financial decisions in which the benefits and costs of public expenditures are misaligned. . . The financial distress of a substantial municipality nearly always signals that its politics are dysfunctional. The same entrenched political environment that exacerbates fiscal instability may also frustrate efforts to initiate reforms necessary to escape a cycle of financial irresponsibility. That entrenchment can be overcome only by the inducement or imposition of structural reforms from outside the municipality.

 

¿Les suena familiar?

 

El Sr. Skeel también dice en su artículo:

 

We contend that municipal bankruptcy can and should address governance failures where they contribute to financial failures. We argue that this conclusion follows from an appreciation of the similarities between municipal corporations and the for profit corporations that are reorganized in Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. Where governance failures contribute to corporate financial distress, no one would treat governance reform as irrelevant to the reorganization of a corporation. Carefully crafted governance rules were a central feature of the Chrysler bankruptcy, and governance rules figure prominently in most other substantial Chapter 11 cases as well. From a purely functional perspective, governance reform is even more essential to an effective Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy than it is in Chapter 11, since at least some stakeholders in insolvent municipalities are more dependent on those entities than are stakeholders in insolvent firms.” (Énfasis suplido)

 

Espero hayan captado la referencia al caso de la quiebra de Chrysler porque el ex Juez Arthur González (ahora miembro de la Junta) resulta que era el Juez de ese caso. ¿Coincidencia? Yo no creo en coincidencias. Parece ser que algunos miembros de la Junta quieren usar a PR como un conejillo de indias y experimentar. De esa manera parecerán los salvadores y peritos en este tipo de asunto. No se ustedes pero a mi no me gusta la idea que usen a PR y los puertorriqueños como experimentos.

 

Si el caso de las quiebras (si plural) de PR tienen algún tipo de éxito, esto propulsará la idea en el Congreso de ayudar a los estados demócratas como Illinois, New York y California para que se establezca una ley de quiebras para el estado que sería de forma voluntaria como lo es el Capítulo 9 de quiebra municipal.

 

¿Como se pueden llevar a cabo estos cambios mencionados por el Sr. Skeel? ¿Que pasaría si el gobierno de PR es llevado a la quiebra?

 

Antes que nada, el Gobierno de PR NO DECIDE SI ALGUNA PARTE del Gobierno se va a la quiebra, es la Junta, sección 206(a). No solo es la Junta la que decide si alguna parte del Gobierno se acoge al Titulo III de PROMESA. Más aún, la Junta es la radica la quiebra , sección 304 y la que determina y presenta el plan de quiebras, sección 312. El plan de quiebras puede incluir el rechazo o aceptación de los executory contracts. ¿Que es un executory contract? Puede ser un arrendamiento o un CONVENIO COLECTIVO. Y cuando digo rechazar, a lo que me refiero es que el convenio colectivo que los empleados públicos celebraron con el Gobierno, por ejemplo el de los maestros que se firmó en agosto puede ser rechazado y entonces pasamos a un convenio nuevo. Normalmente, en capítulos 11, la sección 1113 de Quiebras pone límites a como se llevan a cabo estos rechazos pero ni en Cap. 9 ni en PROMESA esa sección fue adoptada. La sección que si fue adoptada fue la 365, la cual es la que permite el rechazo del executory contract y la 1123(b)(2) que hace lo mismo.

 

Este rechazo en el Cap. 9, por ende en PROMESA, se rige por la decisión del Supremo Federal en NLRB v. Bildisco & Bildisco, 465 U.S. 513 (1984). Para poder llevar a cabo el rechazo, el municipio tiene que demostrar que el (1) contrato es burdensome (gravoso); (2) que el balance de las equidades favorece al municipio y (3) que antes de rechazar el contrato ha negociado de buena fe para cambiar el contrato. Ver también, In Re City of San Bernardino, 530 B.R. 474 (E.D. Cal. 2015) y In Re City of Vallejo, 432 B.R. 262 (E.D. Cal. 2010). Así que las uniones verán sus contratos modificados de forma no muy agradable.

 

Como indiqué, el plan de quiebras lo radica la Junta, NO el gobierno de Puerto Rico. ¿Qué se puede hacer en ese plan de quiebras? Veamos. La sección 1123(a)(5)(D)del Código de Quiebras, adoptado en PROMESA, dice que el plan puede proveer para el “sale of all or any part of the property of the estate, either subject to or free of any lien, or the distribution of all or any part of the property of the estate among those having an interest in such property of the estate”. Puede además cambiarse el “charter” del deudor (1123(a)(5)(i)) o sea, cambiar la ley habilitadora de cualquier agencia. Bajo la 1123(b)(4) el plan puede “provide for the sale of all or substantially all of the property of the estate, and the distribution of the proceeds of such sale among holders of claims or interests.” El 1123(b)(6) añade que el plan puede “include any other appropriate provision not inconsistent with the applicable provisions of this title.” Como ven, el plan puede hacer lo que muchos grupos en PR no “permitirían” bajo ningún concepto, la venta del patrimonio natzional, incluyendo la AEE, la AAA, el Fondo del Seguro del Estado y la Autoridad de Carreteras, por mencionar algunos.

 

Finalmente, algunos analistas hablan de que si los bonistas no aceptan el plan, pues el cramdown lo soluciona todo. Aparte del hecho de que nunca ha ocurrido un cramdown en un Capítulo 9, el cramdown de PROMESA es diferente al del Código de Quiebras. La sección 314(b) de PROMESA enumera los factores que debe tomar en consideración el Tribunal para aprobar el plan y su inciso 6 dice así:

 

the plan is feasible and in the best interests of creditors, which shall require the court to consider whether available remedies under the non-bankruptcy laws and constitution of the territory would result in a greater recovery for the creditors than is provided by such plan” Lo que añado en negro no esta en el Código de Quiebras y es único en PROMESA. Creo que es claro que la mayoría de los acreedores podrían recobrar más fuera de quiebras que en quiebra, por ende, sería difícil aprobar el plan ya que aún en “cramdown” la sección 314(c) requiere que esto se cumpla. Además, la sección 314(b)(7) require que el plan de quiebras sea consistente con el Plan Fiscal y este en tiene que “respect the relative lawful priorities or lawful liens, as may be applicable, in the constitution, other laws, or agreements of a covered territory or covered territorial instrumentality in effect prior to the date of enactment of this Act.” Sección 201(b)(1)(N) de PROMESA. Más aún, el informe de Comité de Recursos Naturales de la Cámara en su informe sobre PROMESA indica a la página 50:

 

By incorporating consistency with the Fiscal Plan into the requirements of confirmation of a plan of adjustment, the Committee has ensured lawful priorities and liens, as provided for by the territory’s constitution, laws, and agreements, will be respected in any debt restructuring that occurs

 

No olvidemos que una vez se radica la quiebra, el pago de las deudas pre-quiebra se detiene y no comienza nuevamente (aún con menoscabo) hasta que se apruebe el plan de quiebras. En Detroit, que fue sumamente rápido, tardó 16 meses, mientras que en San Bernardino tardó más de 4 años. Y recordemos que el “automatic stay” de la sección 362 de quiebras, adoptada en PROMESA, no aplica a los casos donde hay un “pledge” en el acuerdo de bonos, como en el caso de Altair, Peaje y la UPR, según decidido por el Primer Circuito y el Juez Besosa, ver secciones 922 y 927 de la ley de quiebras, adoptadas en PROMESA. Además, los bonos de la AEE y la AAA son considerados “revenue bonds” y tampoco los aplica el “automatic stay”, sujeto al pago de los “necessary expenses” para operar las mismas, ver, sección 928 de la ley de quiebras, también adoptado en PROMESA. Y que son “necessary expenses” en el caso de ambas agencias va a traer múltiples litigios.

 

Otro asunto que los múltiples analistas que salivan con la quiebra de PR no han mencionado es ¿que ocurre si el plan no aprueba por el Tribunal? Ahí entra en función la sección 930(b) de la ley de quiebras, adoptada en PROMESA, dice que la quiebra se puede desestimar si no se aprobó el plan. Y volvemos al primer momento con una deuda que no hemos pagado. Tremendo avance.

 

Sabemos que el gobierno del Dr. Rosselló, a través de Elías Sánchez, ha estado combatiendo algunas de la pretensiones de la Junta. Está por verse si podrán utilizar PROMESA y la ley de quiebras para seguir haciéndolo.

 

 

Dos últimos puntos a mencionar. Habrá miles de casos o “adversary proceedings” radicados en estos casos de quiebra. PR gastará millones en la representación legal de los mismos. A manera de ejemplo, en la quiebra de Detroit, con $18 billones en deuda, la ciudad, entre peritos y abogados se gastó $178 millones. Y hablando de Detroit, la ciudad aún no ha podido ir al mercado de bonos sin la garantía del estado de Michigan. ¿Quien le va a dar esa garantía a PR en el futuro?

 

 

Como he dicho en múltiples ocasiones, be careful what you wish for, you may get it.

 

FURTHER THOUGHTS ON THE RECOVERY ACT ORAL ARGUMENT

 

 

As I was reviewing something a friend sent me, and it got me curious about an old SCOTUS case, Faitoute Iron & Steel Co. v. City of Asbury Park, 316 U.S. 502 (1942). In this case, the SCOTUS allowed a New Jersey law that changed obligations on some municipal bonds. Due to this case, in 1946, Congress amended the Bankruptcy Code to prohibit a state from providing the composition of debts by its municipalities.

 

As I reviewed the case, did some digging and found some interesting facts. In United Trust Company of New York v. New Jersey, 431 U.S. 1, 28 (1977), the issue was the repeal of a statutory covenant made by the two states (New York and New Jersey) that had limited the ability of the Port Authority to subsidize rail passenger transportation from revenues and reserves. A New Jersey superior court dismissed the complaint after trial, holding that the statutory repeal was a reasonable exercise of New Jersey’s police power and was not prohibited by the Contract Clause, and the New Jersey Supreme Court, affirmed the dismissal of the suit that challenged the provision. The SCOTUS reversed the New Jersey Court and found that the action violated the impairment of contractual obligations. The Court stated as follows:

 

Under the specific composition plan at issue in Faitoute, the holders of revenue bonds received new securities bearing lower interest rates and later maturity dates. This Court, however, rejected the dissenting bondholders’ Contract Clause objections. The reason was that the old bonds represented only theoretical rights; as a practical matter the city could not raise its taxes enough to pay off its creditors under the old contract terms. The composition plan enabled the city to meet its financial obligations more effectively. “The necessity compelled by unexpected financial conditions to modify an original arrangement for discharging a city’s debt is implied in every such obligation for the very reason that thereby the obligation is discharged, not impaired.” Id., at 511, 62 S.Ct. at 1134. Thus, the Court found that the composition plan was adopted with the purpose and effect of protecting the creditors, as evidenced by their more than 85% approval. Indeed, the market value of the bonds increased sharply as a result of the plan’s adoption.

 

It is clear that the instant case involves a much more serious impairment than occurred in Faitoute. No one has suggested here that the States acted for the purpose of benefiting the bondholders, and there is no serious contention that the value of the bonds was enhanced by repeal of the 1962 covenant. Appellees recognized that it would have been impracticable to obtain consent of the bondholders for such a change in the 1962 covenant, Brief for Appellees 97-98, even though only 60% approval would have been adequate. See n. 10, supra. We therefore conclude that repeal of the 1962 covenant cannot be sustained on the basis of this Court’s prior decisions in Faitoute and other municipal bond cases.

 

This narrowing of the Faitoute doctrine has been recognized by other courts. In In Re Detroit, 504 B.R. 97, 144-45 (B. E. D. Mich 2013) Judge Rhodes had the same view as did the Court in In Re Jefferson County, 465 B.R. 243, 293 n. 21 (B. N. D. Alabama). The Supreme Court of Illinois in Harding, Inc. v. Village of Mount Prospect, 99 Ill.2d 96, 103-104 (1983) held in a similar fashion and said:

 

In our judgment the opinion of the United States Supreme Court in United States Trust Co. v. New Jersey (1977), 431 U.S. 1, 97 S.Ct. 1505, 52 L.Ed.2d 92, is dispositive of this case, for the circumstances there considered insufficient to sustain legislative alteration of contractual obligations were substantially more compelling than here. In that case, the States of New York and New Jersey, by a 1962 statutory covenant, limited the ability of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to divert, for purposes of subsidizing rail-passenger transportation, certain revenues and reserves previously pledged as security for bonds issued by the Port Authority. Concurrent legislation in both States some 12 years later purported to retroactively repeal the earlier covenant. That legislation was attacked as impermissibly impairing the obligations of the Authority bonds issued prior to repeal. While the State court held the repealing legislation was a reasonable exercise of the State’s police power (United States Trust Co. v. State (1976), 69 N.J. 253, 353 A.2d 514), the Supreme Court reversed on the ground that the 1974 repealer statute was an unconstitutional impairment of the Port Authority’s contract with its bondholders. In reaching this conclusion, the court reviewed at length the history of the contracts clause and noted that it has upheld State legislation impairing contracts in very few cases. Only once in this century, in the case of Faitoute Iron & Steel Co. v. City of Asbury Park (1942), 316 U.S. 502, 62 S.Ct. 1129, 86 L.Ed. 1629, has the court upheld a statute that impaired contract rights of municipal bondholders. In that case, the challenged legislation permitted a bankrupt local government to go into receivership, but it also provided significant protections for all creditors: any bankruptcy repayment plan required approval of 85% of all creditors, and nonconsenting creditors were to be bound by the plan only after a State court determination that the municipality could not otherwise pay its creditors and that the repayment plan was in the best interest of all creditors.

 

Only in one of the respondents merits briefs is Faitoute discussed in this fashion. At page 28 of Franklin California’s brief this issue is discussed. In addition, in Franklin California v. PR, 85 F.Supp.3d 577, 606 (D.P.R. 2015) Judge Besosa discussed the case and said:

 

The United States Supreme Court has long held that the Contract Clause prohibits states from passing laws, like the Recovery Act, that authorize the discharge of debtors from their obligations. See Ry. Labor Execs.’ Ass’n, 455 U.S. at 472 n. 14, 102 S.Ct. 1169 (“[T]he Contract Clause prohibits the States from enacting debtor relief laws which discharge the debtor from his obligations.”); Stellwagen v. Clum, 245 U.S. 605, 615, 38 S.Ct. 215, 62 L.Ed. 507 (1918) (“It is settled that a state may not pass an insolvency law which provides for a discharge of the debtor from his obligations.”); Sturges, 17 U.S. at 199 (Contract Clause prohibits states from introducing into bankruptcy laws “a clause which discharges the obligations the bankrupt has entered into.”).

 

The Commonwealth Legislative Assembly cites Faitoute Iron & Steel Co. v. City of Asbury Park, New Jersey, 316 U.S. 502, 62 S.Ct. 1129, 86 L.Ed. 1629 (1942), as support for the Recovery Act’s “constitutional basis.” Recovery Act, Stmt. of Motives, § C. In Faitoute, the Supreme Court sustained a state insolvency law for municipalities in the face of a Contract Clause challenge. 316 U.S. at 516, 62 S.Ct. 1129. The state law was narrowly tailored in three important ways: (1) it explicitly barred any reduction of the principal amount of any outstanding obligation; (2) it affected only unsecured municipal bonds that had no real remedy; and (3) it provided only for an extension to the maturity date and a decrease of the interest rates on the bonds. Id. at 504–07, 62 S.Ct. 1129. The Supreme Court was careful to state: “We do not go beyond the case before us. Different considerations may come into play in different situations. Thus we are not here concerned with legislative changes touching secured claims.” Id. at 516, 62 S.Ct. 1129. Unlike the state law in Faitoute, the Recovery Act (1) permits the reduction of principal owed on PREPA bonds, (2) affects secured bonds that have meaningful remedies, including the appointment of a receiver, and (3) permits modifications to debt obligations beyond the extension of maturity dates and adjustment of interest rates. Thus, Faitoute is factually distinguishable and provides no support for the Recovery Act’s constitutionality.

 

What does all this mean? Simple, even if the SCOTUS says that section 903 does not apply to PR since it is not eligible for Chapter 9, after the law clerks review the cases again, they may conclude and so inform the Justices, that the island cannot restructure its debts by affecting bondholders. Of course, the SCOTUS may modify or distinguish United Trust Company of New York to allow the restructuring or it can completely reverse it. On the other hand, since this issue is in one brief and the District Court opinion, the SCOTUS should not simply ignore it. If it does, Judge Besosa would have another issue to declare the Recovery Act unconstitutional.